Storm is Coming … do I get Bold?

blackberry-storm-ofc01-sm rim_blackberry_bold_9000

This is an exciting time for Blackberry lovers! Not one, but two game-changing Blackberries will be available in the U.S. next month. The Bold (right) has the traditional Blackberry form factor, but is fully-loaded with 3G, WiFi, GPS, and a sharp half-VGA screen. The Storm (left) is not a traditional Blackberry at all. It has a touch screen, a first for Blackberry. Additionally, the screen is larger than usual (3.25″ vs. 2.6″) because the Storm does not have a hardware keyboard (another Blackberry first).

Do I choose Storm or Blackberry? Now you see the point of this post’s title. Admittedly it’s a bad pun, but you get what you pay for. See what my students have to put up with!

Decision time is near. The Storm is not yet available, but the carriers are consistently advertising it for November. The Blackberry Bold actually has been sold for some time in Europe and Canada. However, the Bold’s launch on AT&T has been delayed because (tech speak about to start) the Bold uses Multi PDP context in its data communications and the AT&T network was not optimized for it, requiring a network upgrade (otherwise bandwidth crunch and capping) which supposedly will be completed by the end of October, enabling a November or (dare we hope) late October release. Given the history of delays, counting on the Bold being available in November is like the saying about remarriage: “The triumph of hope over experience.”

So let’s compare the Storm and the Bold. RIM’s specs are official, but sketchy, so I’m supplementing them with specs from pdadb.net, an excellent PDA database. Here are the links to these sources:

Bold specifications (RIM)
Bold specifications (pdadb.net)
Storm specifications (RIM) 
Storm specifications (pdadb.net)

Size and Weight

The size and weight of the Bold and the Ststormvsiphoneorm are similar, both to each other and to traditional Blackberries like the 8700c. The picture, courtesy of crackberry.com, compares the Storm’s size with the iPhone.

Bold

  • 4.48″/114mm (Length)
  • 2.6″/66mm (Width)
  • 0.59″/15mm (Depth)
  • 4.8 oz/136g (Weight)

Storm

  • 4.43″/112.5mm (Length)
  • 2.45″/62.2mm (Width)
  • 0.55″/13.95mm (Depth)
  • 5.5 oz/155g (Weight)
Large Screen vs. Hardware Keyboard

Now we get to the differences … and they are big.

The two devices each sport screens that have excellent display resolution. The Storm is HVGA+ 480×360, the Bold is Half VGA 480 x 320. But there the similarity ends.

The Storm uses almost its entire height for the screen. By contrast, the Bold, like most Blackberries, fairly evenly divides its height between the screen and the keyboard. Consequently, the Storm’s screen is much larger, 3.25″ vs. the Bold’s traditional 2.6″. However, the Storm lacks the Bold’s traditional hardware keyboard, relying solely on a soft(ware) keyboard.

Based on videos I’ve seen, the Bold’s high-resolution screen is beautiful. However, no matter how many pixels you can pack in, 2.6″ is 2.6″. For me, 2.6″, while fine for viewing and responding to emails and texts, is small to view web pages. The 3.5″ screen of my wife’s iPhone 3G simply makes it easier for me to view web pages. The Storm’s 3.25″ screen should be similar; while it’s a bit smaller than the iPhone 3G screen, its 480 x 360 display resolution is superior to the iPhone’s 320 x 480.

However, a hardware keyboard sure is convenient for emails, texting, and typing in URLs. I’ve tried several software keyboards. They’re OK, but it’s not the same. Yet, as discussed in Storm Touchscreen and Software Keyboard next, the Storm’s software keyboard may be better than the norm.

So, like many choices in life, a trade-off is involved between the larger screen vs. the hardware keyboard. Since when I was a kid dinosaurs ruled the earth, my near vision isn’t what it used to be, and I don’t text a lot. So for me the larger screen outweighs the hardware keyboard. But if you rely on the hardware keyboard for email and texting, you may evaluate this trade-off differently.

Storm Touchscreen and Software Keyboard

The Bold’s screen, like all Blackberries other than the Storm, is not touch. The Storm’s screen, unlike any Blackberry before AFAIK, is touch. But not just any old touch.

Windows Mobile devices also have touchscreens. However, those are resistive. By contrast, the Storm’s touchscreen is capacitive, like the iPhone, the Android T-Mobile G1, and the Dell Latitude XT Tablet PC. Consequently, the Storm’s touchscreen can support multi-touch finger inputs. Pretty cool.

However, the Storm’s capacitive screen, unlike the capacitive screens on the iPhone and G1, uses ClickThrough technology. Basically, you press on the screen, the screen flexes, and returns a tactile response. In plain English, instead of swiping the screen with your finger, you click the screen like a hardware button. The Storm’s ClickThrough display: “A big hardware button” provides links to a number of hands-on reviews of ClickThrough.

The Storm also has an accelerometer, like the iPhone and many of the newer HTC Windows Mobile devices. The accelerometer enables the screen to automatically rotate with the device between portrait and landscape mode. The Storm’s keyboard changes with the rotation, a SureType 20 key virtual keypad in portrait mode, and a full QWERTY layout in landscape mode.

Processor and Memory

Both devices have sufficient and comparable firepower. Each has a 624MHz processor. The Bold has 128MB RAM and 1GB internal storage. The Storm has 192MB RAM and also roughly 1GB internal storage. Each also has a microSDHC slot. So little difference here.

WiFi, where art thou?

Both devices have Bluetooth 2.0 and GPS. However, while the Bold has WiFi (802.11 a/b/g), the Storm has no WiFi.

The lack of WiFi seems curious for such as high end (and priced) device. I’ve heard the justification that Verizon’s 3G coverage is so good you don’t need WiFi. But that coverage can’t be good everywhere. For example, in one situation close to home — actually it is my home in the hills — I have spotty EDGE at best (albeit with AT&T) but a great WiFi signal based on my T1 line. Also, without WiFi, what about VOIP?

Perhaps the real reason, attributed to a Vodafone executive, is “there was simply not enough room to pack in anything else on the motherboard.”

So the lack of WiFi is a negative. But is it a deal breaker? Probably not for me.  I don’t use WiFi very much with my other devices since I have an unlimited data plan and 3G and WiFi does drain your battery. James Kendrick, the JK in JKOnTheRun.com, has a similar take, though the comments to this post show there is another side to the story. Like most things mobile, whether you “need” WiFi depends on your usage scenario.

Which Network?

The Bold will work on pretty much any GSM network. It is quad-band GSM (1900/1800/900/850 MHz) and tri-band 3G (2100/1900/850 MHz).

The Storm also is quad-band GSM. However, the Storm’s only 3GSM (3G + GSM) frequency is 2100 MHz, which is fine for the Eastern Hemisphere but no go for the U.S., where the 3GSM frequency is 850 MHz.

But that doesn’t mean the Storm doesn’t support 3G in the U.S. The U.S. has CDMA as well as GSM. Consequently, there are two Storms. Verizon has the exclusive for the U.S. and will be selling the 9530. Vodafone (one of Verizon’s parent companies) has the exclusive for Europe and elsewhere and will be selling the 9500. The difference is that the 9530 adds support for Verizon’s CDMA network, plus EV-DO Rev A support for Verizon’s 3G network. However, as BlackBerry Bold – The Business Perspective points out, while 3GSM supports simultaneous voice and data, EV-DO Rev A, while 3G, does not.

What if you’re in the U.S. but don’t want to use Verizon? The 9500 and the 9530 have a slot for a GSM SIM card. Therefore, it appears (though not yet conclusive) that you could use a 9500 or 9530 on a U.S. GSM network such as AT&T or T-Mobile.

However, even if you could bypass Verizon and use a 9500 or 9530 on a U.S. GSM network, you still wouldn’t have 3GSM. Since you also wouldn’t have WiFi, adios, high-speed, welcome, EDGE.

It seems pointless to have a high-end and high-priced but low-speed device. So as a practical matter, I think if you’re in the U.S., you’re going to go with Verizon. Even as an AT&T customer, that’s not a deal-breaker for me, though it may be for some.

Bold/Storm and Future Storms

Just as I’m getting ready to pull the purchase trigger, Boy Genius Report has to complicate my life by reporting that RIM is working on a Bold/Storm super combo device and the second and even third generations of the Storm. However, given the glacial rate at which RIM releases new devices, my guess is that these future devices are at least six months away. If you’re going to wait for the next latest and greatest device, you’ll wait forever.

Final Thoughts

The Bold is a traditional Blackberry, but a far superior traditional Blackberry, with a faster processor, more RAM, higher display resolution, 3G, WiFi, GPS and a micro SDHC slot.

The Storm is a revolutionary Blackberry. Indeed, you could think of it as the Blackberry version of the iPhone, with its large, capacitive screen and lack of a hardware keyboard.

The Bold and Storm are both cutting edge devices. But they are very different. And issues such as whether you would prefer a hardware keyboard vs. larger and capacitive screen are highly subjective. As is whether you are willing to sign up with Verizon. And I have no idea if I will love or hate ClickThrough.

My decision ultimately may be based on which is easier to navigate and is more responsive to my every day tasks. So I may need to wait until I can be hands on with both devices. If a picture is worth 1000 words, hands on is worth 1000 pictures.

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